SULLIVAN’S ISLAND — Father Antony Benjamine, a diocesan priest from South India, found his way to the priesthood despite cultural and social opposition.
His parents were adamant about his joining the Indian army, a move that would ensure a good career and pension for the rest of his life. Instead, he opted for eternity.
“I felt that God called me to the priesthood when I was 18 years old,” he said. “But in India it is understood that your parents will choose your career, your religion and your spouse. For me to go against my father’s wishes would be seen as very disrespectful.”
While preparing for the army, he received a letter requesting that he join the priesthood.
“That night I felt the Holy Spirit leading, and at 4 a.m. I woke my mother and convinced her of my calling to the priesthood,” he said. “The hardest part now was to convince my father.”
His mother spoke to his father, who didn’t like the idea.
“Even though my father didn’t like it, he drove me the 12 kilometers by bicycle to our parish priest,” said Father Benjamine. “And I entered St. Peter’s Seminary in Madurai.”
He said his father didn’t agree with his decision until his ordination in 1994.
“My father understands my choice, but he will always feel that I have disrespected him,” Father Benjamine said. “I just knew when I received that letter from the seminary that God had called me for something else besides the army. I knew that I was called for something designed by God.”
He found his way to the South Carolina coast thanks to Father Arul Joseph Rayappan. When Father Rayappan returned to India after several years at Transfiguration Church in Blythewood, he asked Father Benjamine to pray seriously about coming over.
“I really liked the idea of coming here and having different experiences in my pastoral life,” Father Benjamine said. “I have been a priest for 12 years in my country and wanted to gain some practical experiences to take back to my people.”
He will remain in the Diocese of Charleston for five years. His first assignment is that of parochial vicar at Stella Maris Church, a position he took nearly two months ago.
“My goal while I am here is to learn a lot about family counseling,” he said. “This will be a wonderful skill to use in the future of my pastoral life.” Father Benjamine said that life in America is very different from life in India, and that the transition will definitely be challenging at times.
“The climate in India is either hot or hotter,” he said. “Here it is very, very cold. In general the lifestyle is completely different. In India having a motorbike is only for the very rich. Everything is bigger and the food isn’t very spicy like at home.”
But despite the many differences, Father Benjamine finds the kindness of the parishioners to be very refreshing.
“People are very accepting of me and are encouraging me in all ways,” he said. “In India people can be more critical and mocking of a priest. People have encouraged me much. They have been very positive in each and every thing, which is very good for spiritual development.”
Msgr. Lawrence McInerny, pastor, said the experience has been positive.
“I am very impressed with his kindness and love for the people,” he said. “The people have really responded to him well.”
Msgr. McInerny has done his part to introduce Father Benjamine to the South.
When he first got here I took him to open a bank account, I took him to Piggly Wiggly, and we went and bought him a Ford,” said Msgr. McInerny. “He’s not a Bubba yet, but it will only be a matter of time.”